Anthony Moore, “Flying Doesn’t Help”
By Sunik Kim · June 02, 2022 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

What has characterized Anthony Moore’s wide-ranging collaborative and solo work—primarily with Slapp Happy and Henry Cow—is its ability to refract the popular music of its time through a critical prism without sacrificing the vitality, excitement, even naiveté, inherent in those forms. Flying Doesn’t Help, released in 1979, finds Moore taking this approach to the glittery T-Rex-Transformer sound of glam and turn-of-the-’80s punk to stirring effect. While the music directly bears the traces of its time—Moore’s multi-tracked vocal choruses and rounded, subtly tape-echoed snares recall the shapeshifting Cale/Eno brand of pop—there is a distinct economy of form and gesture in Moore’s work, a simplicity that becomes complex through repetition and reiteration.

Whereas Henry Cow exploded the prog form, splaying and scattering its bones only to reconstruct them into something qualitatively different and truly complex, Moore takes an intensive approach, unfolding inherent tensions in the prevailing pop forms by recreating them. Through this act of replication, Moore sharpens certain functional components of the pop song: his call-and-response guitar riffs have an unusually serrated edge; his fired-up keyboard noodling has the jarring, alien sound of klaxons. And in between the tinny funk and dub-inflected grooves there arise moments of beauty—see the shimmering breakdown halfway through hit single “Judy Get Down”—as well as a gripping theatricality (“Useless Moments”).

The end result of this juxtaposition of popular styles and tropes—all grounded in a driving, mid-tempo drumbeat—is that the structure of the pop song is surfaced and made apparent in all its artifice, just as Ornette’s harmolodic music never exceeded a certain static, middling tempo so as to emphasize the rhythmic and tonal content of the music with the utmost clarity. At the same time, the careening joy of the best pop music is wholly preserved—the back-to-back paeans “Lucia” and “Caught Being In Love” are both built atop the ubiquitous “Be My Baby” drum pattern—but the fact that they are by no means wholly “original” only strengthens their effect: the seemingly mystical beauty of pop is that it continues to move us to tears even when its basic formula and inherent derivativeness is made painfully obvious.

Slapp Happy took this refractive approach to the gentler sounds of soft rock and cabaret, giving an edge to the seemingly edge-less. Moore takes the already seemingly edgy sound of late-’70s punk, glam, and art pop and teases out its beating heart, in the process creating a music that breaks from its template while still orbiting it. If the music sounds very “of its time,” that is exactly the point: unexpected beauty, pleasure, and delight follow from what only seems like more of the same.

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